This story by Glenda Burkett won the local Ruapehu prize in the William Taylor Short.
The judge commented: A cleverly written ‘Coming Out’ story. Of course I read it waiting for the angst-fuelled ‘I’m Gay’ confession, but no! She is coming out ‘grey’, accepting that grey is the new gold, and being proud of her hair in its natural state. Stylistically the story reminded me of some of Stephanie Johnson’s polished prose. A fine piece.
“Out of the Closet” By Glenda Burkett
“Mirror, mirror on the wall. Who’s the oldest of us all?”
“Well– it’s not Mark, he’s thirty-four,
Caro’s just a little more,
Sarah’s pushing thirty soon,
Tara’s two at next new moon.
Gerald, now he’s fifty–two.
Bad luck, Cass, -it must be you!”
She could have sworn the mirror winked at her. Cass gave it a threatening stare before vacating the bathroom and slammed the door to relieve her feelings. It was coming to a fine pass when bloody inanimate objects started mocking you. Snow White had a lot to answer for. She was the one who’d given it grandiose notions of its own importance.
Mind you, Cass had emboldened it herself. Up till now the mirror had just given an unfeeling smirk, as it reflected her crow’s feet and laughter lines and looked bored when she rubbed in the cement mix masquerading as Anti-aging cream that filled in the crevices. It had never so much as had the temerity to mouth “wrinkles.” It had only raised a knowing eyebrow, when she touched up her roots with “Blondit” and positively yawned when she tweezed out those infuriating bristly hairs that inhabit the chins of the post-menopausal female.
What would it say when it realized what she was planning? After all, women her age had usually made the decision years ago. They were one thing or the other, not hovering on the brink of self-discovery at 55, or trying to swing both ways. What on earth would Gerald make of her decision after thirty years of marriage? Would he cast her off in horror and disgust? The tabloids were full of stories of husbands who’d traded in for a younger model and often on flimsier grounds then a major lifestyle change like this one. Gerald liked feminine sexy blonde women. He’d said so often enough and up till now Cass had taken the hint. But now she wanted a change.
And Mark. He was so trendy and cool and he’d enjoyed parading his blonde “youthful-or -50-plus mother” to his advertising agency mates until he’d met Sarah. She’d already been replaced by a younger model there. Not that Cass minded. She liked her pretty, lively, clever daughter-in –law. It was Mark’s image of her she didn’t want to destroy. He’d told her once she was a glamorous mum and he was proud of her. How would he cope with her new persona?
Sarah wouldn’t mind, she hoped. She was bright and intelligent and could cope with a mother-in-law who’d made such a decision. But Tara was only two. Would she be scared? Would Sarah mind her having contact with her grand-daughter once she’d come out? Would the child understand why she’d decided to do this, when she was older?
Caro was living in Melbourne. Cass would have time to make her announcement and let her daughter get used to it from a distance. Caro was a modern woman in her mid thirties living a high powered lifestyle with a high flying financier. They dealt with all sorts of people in their professional and social lives. Surely Caro wouldn’t shun her?
Cass grabbed her bag and locked the house. Reversing her little Mazda down the drive she glanced in the rear vision mirror of the car and encountered only indifference. “I’m a working mirror not a cosmetic aid and I wish you wouldn’t alter my angle. How do you expect to miss the gatepost if you turn me that way?” it growled and she tweaked it back with a word of apology, glad that it communicated only in prose.
Louise was sipping coffee on the rear deck of the café when Cass arrived. She popped her cup down and rose to embrace her. Cass returned the searching gaze steadily as she was released.
“I haven’t changed my mind,” Cass said.
“That’s a relief. You won’t regret this, I promise.”
Louise put her hand over Cass’s limp left hand in a firm squeeze.
“I didn’t. – I don’t -and you won’t either.” Louise continued
She nodded in emphasis.
Her fingers pressed on Cass’s wedding ring catching a fold of skin between it and her engagement ring in a painful reminder of older loyalties. Louise’s short Butch haircut made a silvery nimbus round her head in the sunlight. She looked all of her sixty-five years and more. Old, and in her plain black trousers and silver sweater, rather masculine.
Cass gave a teary smile and ordered a Cappuccino as the waitress hovered beside her.
“I hope not. I feel so nervous.”
The hairdresser made “hmming” noises as Cass explained what she wanted.
“Yes, you’ll need to keep it short for a few months till it’s all grown out, but then you can
have it a decent length if you like.”
She snipped industriously and Cass sat, mouth set in tragic lines, as her new image was created. Louise stood to one side nodding approvingly.
Two red wines, a good lunch and another Cappuccino later, Cass drove carefully up to her home. She wasn’t used to this “retired- ladies- who -lunch” lifestyle yet and doubted if she could afford it often, but there was no doubt it had helped. She loved Louise. It took a good friend to offer the kind of support she’d needed today.
Well, there was one last duty to perform. Cass strode purposefully into the bathroom and confronted the mirror with a challenging glower. It lifted its eyebrows in disdain, but remained silent as she whipped open the door of the cabinet and threw a half-used packet of “Blondit” into the wastepaper basket. Her voice was ringing with triumph.
“Now, what have you got to say about that? No more hair dye! Out of the Closet! I’m Grey!”
She put her tongue out at the mirror in triumph and turned its face to the wall.